Five-ring Circus

Colbert in Vancouver

He has some fun with the NBC fireplace.

Check out Slate’s complete coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Also enjoy this Magnum Photos gallery on ice skating.

Grumbling about TV coverage of the Olympics—about the delays of tape and rushes of force-fed schmaltz—is an institution unto itself. In fact, this tradition of complaint predates television, stretching back to 392 B.C., when thoughtful urn critics decried the many sexist depictions of Cynisca of Sparta, the defending τέθριππον champion. However, it seems that NBC’s handling of the Vancouver games is arousing more than the usual amount of wrath—very possibly because, what with the recent Tonight meltdown and the network’s general spiraling descent, taking shots at NBC has achieved new popularity as a target sport in its own right.

In fact, this new pastime is so irresistible that even NBC Sports is getting in on the act. At this writing, the “editor’s pick” video at is a 38-second clip titled “Colbert: Into the Fire,” wherein Stephen Colbert amusingly pulls back the curtain—the fireplace curtain—on the showbiz values that dictate NBC’s approach to every little air-to-fakie.

Colbert is in Vancouver as the primary sponsor of—and the “assistant sports psychologist” to—the U.S. speed skating team. On Wednesday, NBC’s Bob Costas taped an appearance scheduled to air on The Colbert Report next week, and then Colbert, returning the favor, brazened onto Costas’ set, which resembles the lobby of an expensively bland resort hotel. Excusing himself at the conclusion of their chat, Colbert went to warm himself up at the faux-fireplace on set, stepping into the firebox and curling up in front of its flames, which flickered digitally in the tradition of the WPIX yule log. “It’s really lovely in here,” Colbert said with savor. “You know, it’s the authenticity that I really appreciate about NBC.” So went another night around the electronic hearth.

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